If you’re writing a book, or even just thinking about writing one, you’ve probably wondered what’s the best way to get your book published and in the hands of eager readers.
Gone are the days when you’d have to submit your manuscript and a few thousand prayers to the Big Five, with whom a deal is about as likely as winning the lottery.
Today, aspiring authors have far more options, from working with traditional publishers, to hybrid publishers, to taking matters into your own hands and self-publishing your book.
But for each of these methods there are important pros and cons to consider so you can choose the publishing route that’s best for you and your book.
How Publishing Works
Whether you opt for self-publishing or traditional, these are the three steps you’ll inevitably encounter.
1. Writing a Book
A traditional publisher will help with the editing part of the writing process. That’s great.
If you’re self-published, you’ll have to hire your own editor, or, if you’re lucky, you might have friends who are great editors and will do it for free.
2. Publishing Your Book
A traditional publisher will do all the publishing work for you, including cover design, formatting, layout, printing, distributing, collecting cash, paying out royalties, etc.
As a self published author, you’ll have to do all that work yourself, or hire a contractor to do some of it for you.
3. Marketing Yourself
A traditional publisher will do somewhere between 0% and 50% of the marketing for you, depending on how lucky you are. You’ll still have to do at least 50% of the marketing work (but more likely 90%).
As a self-published author, you’ll have to do 100% of the marketing for yourself, a little bit more than you would if you were traditionally published.
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
When deciding between the traditional and self-publishing routes, there are several key considerations you should keep in mind.
These include time and expenses that will go into the publishing process, how much creative control you’ll retain, the exposure your book can potentially get, and how much you can earn. In each of these categories, there are pros and cons to both traditional and self publishing.
Time and Expenses
If you choose to go the self-publishing route, you’ll be responsible for handling most of the production process yourself, or at least finding (and probably paying) someone else to handle it for you.
This can include time and money spent on:
Check out our Kindle self-publishing checklist for a more detailed look at what you can expect to manage yourself.
If you pursue traditional publishing, you’ll still be investing a lot of time, most of which will be spent before you even get a deal.
Often, the process can be more time-consuming than for self-publishing, as you’ll be spending time:
- Looking for agents and publishers
- Writing query letters
- Submitting manuscripts
- Tracking your submissions
- Doing due diligence on agents and publishers to make sure they’re trustworthy
- Waiting as long as several weeks until the publisher responds to a simple email or request (a common complaint among my friends who are traditionally published)
- Waiting for months or years until your book is actually published
The Bottom Line
Both self-publishing and traditional publishing will require you to invest time and/or money (and don’t forget that time is money!).
Traditional publishing tends to involve a lot of waiting, at almost every phase in the process. With self-publishing, you can publish your book on your own timeline, so how long it takes you will depend on how quickly you can take care of edits, cover designs, layouts, and marketing plans—but at least you’re in control, which may make self-publishing a better choice when it comes to time.
When it comes to how much time you’ll have to wait for your book to actually be published, your two options couldn’t be more different.
With self-publishing, you could literally upload your book today and call it a day (though you’ll probably want to spend a bit more time preparing). Still, the point is that you’re in charge here: there are no deadlines to follow, so you could work on your book’s cover and design for the next two years if you want to, or you could be published next week.
With traditional publishing, you’re at the mercy of the publishing company, and on average, you can expect to wait anywhere from six months to two and a half years—and that’s assuming you already signed a publishing deal!
The Bottom Line
Self-publishing offers a much more flexible timeline, as you’ll be your own boss, and you’ll be responsible for how quickly or slowly your book is edited, designed, etc. If you’re ready to go to print today, you can. With traditional publishing, you can expect your book to be published in anywhere from 6 months to 2+ years.
With self-publishing, you’re in complete and full control when it comes to creative decisions. Of course, you’ll have to adhere to some basic guidelines if you’re self-publishing through Amazon (i.e., no illegal or infringing content, no public domain materials, etc.).
Amazon also reserves the right not to sell content that customers may find “objectionable,” such as pornography and other inappropriate material.
With traditional publishing, authors are generally subject to the whims of the publisher when it comes to cover design choices, titles, and even the content that makes the final cut.
The Bottom Line
Self-publishing definitely gives authors the most creative control, but with that autonomy comes a lot of responsibility, so make sure you’re willing to accept the credit (good and bad) for your book.
If you’ve self-published your book, it will be pretty difficult to achieve widespread recognition. However, you might be able to reach your target audience more directly, by channeling your time and resources into the most relevant channels and using your existent following.
Traditional publishers usually have the ability and connections to get your book distributed, which means you’ll get more mainstream exposure and possibly a prominent display in bookstores.
Your chances of being recognized for literary awards are also much higher with traditional publishers (the most prestigious competitions rarely accept self-published works).
Major publishers can promote your book heavily online, but note that this isn’t always the case: some are known to skimp on the marketing, leaving authors to do most of the grunt work if they want to sell well.
The Bottom Line
Overall, traditional publishers are typically able to get wider mainstream exposure for their authors. With self-publishing, growing your readership will likely take much longer, but that doesn’t mean you won’t can’t achieve a large and very loyal following.
Expenses for self-publishing tend to be higher on the front end, but self-published authors tend to earn much higher royalties (around 50–70%).
Traditional publishers, on the other hand, usually take care of most of the front-end expenses. However, a traditionally published author will only earn about 5–15%, which can make for a major payday… if your book sells like Oprah’s or Danielle Steel’s.
But since most authors simply don’t have that kind of star power behind their names. you’d be wise to manage your expectations about how much you’ll earn even with a big-name publisher.
The Bottom Line
You will have to spend more money to self-publish your book, but you’ll also have more earning potential, since whatever money you make will be yours.
With traditional publishing, the publisher will take most of your book’s earnings, and if your book undersells, that means very little (if any) profit for you.
There are also now hundreds of hybrid or non-traditional publishers who can help as well. Hybrid publishers will do some or all of the work a traditional publisher would normally do.
However, their fee structures and royalty rates may vary considerably. Some hybrid publishers may help you get your book to market much faster, others may provide great marketing support and guidance, and others may take your money and run.
You’ll just have to do the research on your own if you’re looking for a non-traditional publisher (or any publisher, including yourself).
Is Self-Publishing Better Than Traditional Publishing?
I failed miserably trying to follow the traditional publishing route. Publishers and agents wouldn’t give me the time of day, let alone read my manuscript.
I’m not sure if there’s anything more humiliating than spending days researching how to write a query letter, writing dozens or hundreds of personalized query letters, and then sending them out and getting no response, or just a copy and paste rejection letter.
Luckily for me, someone told me I could skip the whole traditional publishing route and just upload my book to Kindle a few years ago. Twelve months later, I had my first $12,000+ month from Kindle sales alone.
I’m not saying self publishing is easy or perfect, but it’s certainly worked out for me. You’ll have to spend time on a lot of basic activities to set yourself up for success, especially in the beginning—but at least you’ll be in full control and get back what you deserve.
However, the choice is ultimately yours. If you feel that hybrid or traditional or hybrid publishing are better fits for you and your book, then that’s the route you should pursue. Whatever method you choose, just be sure to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible so you can make informed decisions.
Marketing Resources for Authors
These books should be required reading for all authors on marketing, regardless of the publishing route you choose:
Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday
The Perfection of Marketing by James Connor
80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall
61 Ways to Sell More Nonfiction Books by Steve Scott
(Even if you write fiction, read it!)
You’re also going to need to find reviewers to review your books. Don’t spend a dime on this (except for the cost of giving away free books). Here’s how to find some great reviewers for free: How To Get Unlimited High Quality Amazon Reviews.
The Formula for Success
Whether you decide to go with a traditional publisher, hybrid publisher, or self-publishing, you’ll still have to follow the formula for success: write the best book you can. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world. Just be the best you can be.
That means practicing regularly, if not daily. That means studying other great writers and constantly learning how to get better.
P.S. If you’re looking for a non-traditional publisher who can help you with publishing and marketing, check out our submission guidelines.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- Is Self Publishing or Traditional Publishing Better Financially?
- The Effects of COVID-19 on the Publishing Industry: The Start of a New Era?
- List of 100+ Author Tools: The Best Tools for Writing, Publishing, and Marketing Your Book
- What is Hybrid Publishing and Why You Should Choose It
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.